Saturday, March 15, 2014

Trip to hillside city a pleasure, even though no new info discovered

Olive trees surround the city in this view from near the top.
Friday, March 14
If I were a pessimist, today might be considered a waste of time, an exercise in futility and frustration. But I am not, and I thoroughly enjoyed going on a long bike ride—and walk—to Uzzano Castello while searching for family tree information and drawing a complete blank.

The frana that forced the road closure.
The purpose of my field trip was to find out more about the family of Egisto Seghieri, whose son Egidio immigrated to America in 1905. Egidio eventually settled in San Francisco and had two sons, a daughter and numerous grandchildren, one of whom is Donald Seghieri. I am trying to help Don clear up some mysteries about a house that his grandfather lived in that is only about a mile from where I am staying at the Casolare dei Fiori. During the 1950s, Don’s dad Tristano was contacted by an aunt, Adolfina, who wanted to modify the family property, but since Tristano and and his brother Fiory were listed as part owners, she couldn’t get a loan. They signed away their ownership so she could proceed. Don wanted to know more about the property and the family his grandfather had left behind, and so did I.

One downside of olive trimming is the ubiquitous smoke.
Last week I had gone to the address Don had given me, Via della Priora 2. I snapped some photos from various views to send to Don, and I knocked on the door but found no one at home. Don was grateful to receive the photos, which he forwarded to his cousin Gary, a son of Fiory. Gary wrote to thank me, too, and added more information: “Dad went and saw the house in 1990 or maybe 1989, I believe, and he said he knocked on the door. A woman answered, and he identified himself and asked to see the house and vineyard as he said his father most likely might have been born there and lived there for quite a while when he was a young man. He said the woman really hurt his feelings when she said, ‘Why are you here? To claim your property?’ Sorry to say he never saw the house, except for the outside and never walked the vineyard. He left very upset and said he doubted he’d ever try again.”

Last year I found Egidio’s birth certificate in Pescia, but when I tried to find out more about his younger brothers and sisters, the people working in the Pescia archives said that the location of the family house had passed from the jurisdiction of Pescia to Uzzano and then to Chiesina Uzzanese shortly after Egidio’s birth. To find the “state of the family” document, I was told I would have to look in the Castello del Capitano in Uzzano Castello, which was only open two days a month. I had not been able to make it last year, but I had put it on my list of possible research topics for this year.

Since spring has come early here—all sunny days and temperatures ranging from 65 to 70 degrees all this week—today seemed like a good day to take the journey, and it being the second Friday of the month, the archives should have been open. However, the web site providing me this information had not been updated since 2012, leaving some room for doubt, and an e-mail I had sent asking for confirmation had bounced back.

I took off around 10 a.m. and made a 20-minute ride to the base of the collina that leads to Uzzano Castello, a city with medieval origins on the side of a mountain. The winding route up to Uzzano Castello is about three kilometers, all of it too steep to ride my bike. In addition, I was faced with a sign saying the road was closed near the cemetery because of a frana, a word I didn’t know. I figured it was probably a landslide, and not wanting to take a long detour to an alternate road on the other side of the hill, I went anyway, reasoning that I could walk my bike past the frana.

It appears some people leave their olive nets up year around so they are always ready for the harvest.
The scenic beauty of the ascent and inside of the city made the trip worth the time, even though I found the archives closed when I reached the top. The warm weather had caused plants and trees to bloom early, adding a sweet fragrance to the air, and the birds surrounding me sang in celebration. Bees hummed in the fruit trees. All along the route, I saw people working in their olive orchards, trimming branches and gathering them in bundles to be burned. The climb took about 30 minutes—45 if one counts the times I stopped to take photos, observe the olive trimmers and take a quick foray through the cemetery. I easily passed the landslide, and after entering the city’s only porta, I continued uphill on narrow and worn stone streets. Wild plants, some in bloom, sprouted from the irregular rock walls lining the central street. Uzzano Castello, once a way station between Lucca and Firenze and valued for its defensible position and strategic view of the Valdinievole below, is now just a bedroom community. I saw fewer than a half dozen people during my 15-minute stroll.

Church of Saints Jacopo and Martino.
The Palazzo del Capitano was closed up, with no sign outside giving a hint that it would ever be open. I found a middle-aged man lounging on a bench in the piazza, and he told me the archives were no longer here, or at least no longer open. I must go to the municipio down below in Santa Lucia, on a different side of the hill, he said. After a few more minutes of sight-seeing, I descended, still walking in some places for fear my brakes wouldn’t be sufficient to slow me enough to maneuver some of the sharp turns.

At the municipio, my hopes rose when the clerk found an index card with the names of Egisto and his wife Virginia Giuntoli, but after a couple of minutes of deliberation with a colleague, he told me he didn’t know where the actual state of the family document could be located. I have some suspicions that the state of the family documents are still in the building at the top of the hill, but the city government doesn’t have the personnel available to make them accessible to the public.

If the document is not here, then where? I asked. There is a young man who knows everything, the clerk told me. If I called this ragazzo, he could tell me how to find what I was looking for. The clerk made a photocopy of the young man’s business card—it was Andrea Mandroni, the same person I see twice a week when he opens the parish archives in Pescia. I have already received much help from Andrea and was trying to avoid wearing out our friendship with my endless questions, but there was no use explaining this to the clerk, so I thanked him and rode off. I took a different route home, which seemed appropriate, since I already felt that I had just been going in circles. Still, had I been simply a tourist in Italy today, not doing research, this might have been the very excursion I would have chosen anyway. The weather, the sights, sounds and smells—everything else had been perfect. I arrived home around 1 p.m. to find Lucy waiting with a savory beef stew on the stove, and we dined outside.

The reddish glow is from the red walls of the Casolare.
How did my morning go? she asked. “A complete and utter failure—and an absolutely wonderful, unforgettable experience,” I said with a smile of contentment.


  1. Just reading about the sights and smells of your morning made me want to be there riding a bike as well. I imagined what it would be like to be working in the olive groves as you explained it. A simple life? Or just as complex as mine but in different ways? I don't think I will ever know the answer to that but it I is a good mental exercise just the same. Thanks!


  2. Sounds like a frustrating trip ended up being delightful - I like how you find the beauty that surrounds you and describe it so well in addition to the lovely pics


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